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Only way is up for Norway’s R&D spend

At 1.8 per cent of GDP, Nor-way’s spending on R&D lags far behind that of its Nordic neighbours, all of which are breezing past the EU’s 3 per cent target. With the global recession maintaining a tight grip on Europe, the country’s politicians are under increasing pressure to come up with an effective catch-up strategy.

Torbjørn Røe Isaksen, Norway’s research minister, has said he hopes to have a long-term research plan ready for the conservative government to present by autumn 2014. “The priorities of the plan are not yet clear,” a spokesman for Isaksen’s ministry said. “The government places great emphasis on developing a knowledge-based society, and that means continuing to build on the areas in which Norway has natural advantages.”

The idea of a long-term plan was first brought to the table by the previous, left-wing government. The conservative party was the only one that did not warm to the idea at the time, says Petter Aaslestad, head of Norway’s researcher union Forskerforbundet. “We are very pleased that the new minister will focus on developing a long-term plan for research, as it is very important,” he says. “Increasing R&D spending to 3 per cent of GDP would be difficult to achieve without a long-term plan.”

The government aims to achieve such an increase by 2030. According to a government statement issued alongside the budget on 8 November, 28 billion Norwegian kroner (€3.4bn) will be spent on public research in 2014—a 3 per cent increase from 2013 and kr320 million up from the previous proposal.

However, meeting the EU target hinges on triggering a boom in industry spending. The spokesman for the research ministry says that, as part of the long-term plan, public funding for R&D would increase to 1 per cent of GDP and the remaining 2 per cent would come from private investors.

But as things stand, government spending on R&D in Norway amounts to 0.8 per cent of GDP and industry investment to just 0.7 per cent. The remaining money comes from sources outside the country. “It’s important for the private sector to invest much more, and the state must help it to reach this goal,” Aaslestad says.

The government wants to do that by ramping up research in petroleum, marine science, nanotechnology, biotechnology and ICT—all areas in which Norwegian businesses are strong. In 2014, a kr80m boost for R&D focused on the end user should provide companies with better research opportunities, according to Norway’s research council Forskningsrådet.